Six cleared Guantanamo prisoners – including Reprieve client Abu Wa’el Dhiab – have today been released to Uruguay.
Mr. Dhiab, a 43-year-old Syrian who was cleared by the US Government in 2009, had been on a peaceful hunger strike since early 2013 to protest his detention without charge. As a result, he had been repeatedly subjected to force-feeding, which continued into at least November this year, according to the Department of Defense.
Mr. Dhiab had also been engaged in litigation – supported by his lawyers at international legal NGO Reprieve – challenging abusive force-feeding practices at Guantanamo. The case resulted in an order by a federal judge that video tapes showing his force-feeding must be released. The Obama Administration appealed the order last week, and the case remains ongoing.
The US military’s force-feeding techniques, in which a six-member riot squad tackle a detainee and strap them into a multi-point restraint chair, have been condemned by the UN and national and international medical organizations. So far, only Mr. Dhiab’s security-cleared lawyers at Reprieve and the court have been allowed to see the tapes showing his force-feeding and a process known as ‘Forcible Cell Extraction’ (FCE). However, 16 major US media organisations – including ABC, AP, CBS, McClatchy, The New York Times, Reuters and the Washington Post – have intervened in the case demanding that the tapes be released in the public interest.
Mr. Dhiab, whose wife and three children are Syrian refugees from the ongoing armed conflict, has previously said he would gratefully accept any country’s offer of hospitality. He has also said Americans should be permitted to see the videos of his force-feeding, stating: “I want Americans to see what is going on at the prison today, so they will understand why we are hunger-striking, and why the prison should be closed. If the American people stand for freedom, they should watch these tapes. If they truly believe in human rights, they need to see these tapes.”
Cori Crider, a Director at Reprieve and a lawyer for Mr. Dhiab, said: “We are grateful to the government of Uruguay – and President Mujica in particular – for this historic stand. Very few people can truly comprehend what the cleared men in Guantánamo suffer every day, but I believe Mr. Mujica is one of them. Like President Mujica, Mr. Dhiab spent over a dozen years as a political prisoner. Mr. Dhiab was never charged, never tried. President Mujica spent two years at the bottom of a well; for most of the past two years, Mr. Dhiab has had a team of US soldiers truss him up like an animal, haul him to a restraint chair, and force-feed him through a tube in his nose. The President’s compassion has ended that torture.
“Despite years of suffering, Mr. Dhiab is focused on building a positive future for himself in Uruguay. He looks forward to being reunited with his family and beginning his life again. Let’s not forget that Mr. Dhiab and the others freed today leave behind many men just like them: cleared prisoners warehoused in Guantánamo for years. Reprieve hopes that other countries will follow the positive example set by the Uruguayan government today, and help President Obama close this shameful prison.”